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AXPONA 2023 Luxury Premium Audio And Hi-Fi Stereo Audiophile Show Report By Enjoy the Music.com

The AXPONA 2023 Chronicles: Part 11
Sound systems singing with two speakers on the second floor.
Audio Expo North America 2023 Show Report By Rick Becker


The AXPONA Chronicles 2023 Part 11 Sound systems singing with two speakers on the second floor. Audio Expo North America 2023 Show Report By Rick Becker


Still Sunday Morning... The Stairway Issue
There is but one stairway leading from the 3rd Floor down to the 2nd. It emerges just to the right of the Registration Desk at the hotel. It is not difficult to find if you're already on the 2nd Floor, as it is well marked. But if you're on the 3rd Floor walking from room to room looking at audio gear, it is hard to remember in which corner of the Atrium that stairway is hiding. The alternative is to wait for the elevator. Some signs in each corner of the 3rd Floor or a billboard in the stairway corner that could be seen across the Atrium would be helpful.



DALI, NAD, And Lenbrook Americas
As I emerged from the stairway in the large, open area behind the banks of elevators was a familiar rig. It was labeled the "Studio" on the program floor plan, but it looked more like a lounge in a large luxury hotel... which is what the Renaissance is. Floor-to-ceiling glass walls let in the sunshine but also created a boombox for the tall DALI speakers, which was pretty much what the area sounded like — a huge, expensive boombox. Hopefully, the location gave them the exposure they deserve because I saw this same rig a month earlier in Montreal sounding a whole lot better.



Last year at the Toronto show I was very unimpressed with this rig in a large room and blamed it on the NAD M33 ($6k) electronics. (They are sister brands, now, of their North American distributor, Lenbrook Americas.) At Montreal, in another large room, but with a lower ceiling, the music was vastly improved and more in keeping with the $110k price of the DALI Kore speakers. Here at AXPONA, with a ceiling that extended up through the Atrium to the 6th Floor, the acoustic environment was perfectly suited for Brian Eno's Music For Airports, though that is not what they were playing.

This is not a criticism of the speakers, but rather proof that the room is your most important component. Take away the chatter of the crowd and crank up the volume after midnight and you will likely have an awesome, if rather ethereal listening experience. I could really dig that — at least until the Hotel Security people arrived.



Moving through the hotel lobby toward the large rooms in the Convention Center, I passed the lovely Isabeau Corriveau (she's always lovely) who has been playing her harp and selling music at the Canadian shows and AXPONA for several years now. Little did I know at the time that she had a full schedule of appearances in various rooms throughout the show.



Convergent Audio Technology And Essential Sound Products
As you may recall, I stopped in on Thursday evening to hear the CAT system and chat with Ken Stevens. He was still sorting out some power cord options with Michael Griffin, whose ESP (Essential Sound Products) power cords he has been using over the years.



The photo above gives you an idea of the size of the Nirvana conference rooms. It is most likely much larger than your listening room. The CAT tube amps in triode mode had no trouble driving the difficult Magico S5 Mk II speakers — even the small stereo CAT amp.



The rig looked pretty much the same as at Capital Audiofest with a CAT SL1 Legend Back Path Extreme preamp ($70k) with phono stage. This model has dual volume controls rather than a volume control and a separate balance control. And below that is his hot-rodded vintage Audio Aero Capitole Classic CD player. At the very bottom was the CAT JL5LE Black Path Extreme Limited Edition stereo amp ($27,895) that puts out 120 Wpc in triode mode using Russian KT120 tubes wired for triode, though 6650 or KT88 tubes can also be used — the latter available from non-Russian manufacturers. I've heard this "small" CAT amp drive this same Magico S5 Mk2 speaker very well in other large rooms without difficulty. Where else do you see a tube amp driving Magico speakers?

Immediately next to the rack on the floor were a pair of JL7 SE monoblocks ($60k) that put out 220 Watts each into 4 or 8 Ohms @ 1% THD. In that first Watt, where most of the music happens, it measures a mere 0.005% THD  —  basically, negligible. The outermost monoblocks were The Statement Extreme ($225k) sporting 16 Russian KT120 tubes.



That would be a VPI HW-40 Black Edition direct-drive turntable ($22k) with a Van den Hul Crimson cartridge ($5k) being readied for play. Being a tube guy, I expected outstanding transparency and inner detail as well as a liquid, inviting presentation, and there was all of that, plus dynamics and a sense of musical ease that belied such a modest power tube amp in such a large room. We say the first Watt is the most important, but the sound quality of CAT's first Watt extends far beyond the first Watt.

Ken and Michael eventually settled on the new ESP Renaissance power cord ($5k) which is expensive, but not out of the orbit of gear at this level. And it was certainly the right one. They also used the new ESP Renaissance power strip which should be up on their website shortly. Interconnects and speaker cables were CAT Black Path amorphous silver/gold prototypes. CAT has been refining the preamp and power amps for decades. Don't expect them to come up with the latest iterations with built-in DACs and streamers or remote controls. When you reach this level, you don't mess with success.



Credo Audio Switzerland And EMM Labs
Here again, in Nirvana B was a familiar sight with Credo Audio of Switzerland showing off a very tall line array speaker along with a much more modest M-T-M floorstanding speaker in the large room.



To my amazement, I was listening to the smaller floorstander! Not that they were underpowered by the huge EMM Labs monoblocks, but I had to check the speaker cables to be sure. I don't know how frequently these were played over the weekend, but it was a more relatable speaker to me.



The larger speaker looks to be constructed in three pieces for deliverability. The front baffle in white has a natural wood surround (more evident in the right speaker) and probably detaches from the stacked woofer cabinets in black behind it. Make that five or six pieces when taking into count the massive metal footers.

That looked to be a VPI Avenger Direct turntable ($36k) with two arms (at extra cost), and a DS Audio cartridge playing on the left arm. Even with the small speaker, this room sounded very impressive.



Joseph Audio, Cardas Audio, Doshi Audio, And Notable Audio
Jeff Joseph always puts on a good show, regardless of the size of the room, and there was a bit of a shake-up from what I normally see at the Canadian shows where he is typically found in a more modest room. Nirvana A was as big as Nirvana B and C. With a rig full of flagship components from each of the major companies shown here, Jeff scaled up to put on quite a show for people. That's him in the blue shirt, below, talking with his audience.



The Joseph Audio Pearl Graphene speakers are what I often imagine Von Schweikert VR-4 speakers might have become had not Von Schweikert veered off into single cabinet speakers in this size range. They also should be considered strong competition for Wilson Sasha Daw. And while Wilson only offers superb paint finishes in styles that can only be considered contemporary, the Pearl is available in superb wood finishes with a style that readily fits into traditional décor as well as paint that bridges into contemporary décor as well.



While the 86dB sensitivity might suggest solid-state amplification, the more benign 8 Ohm nominal (6 Ohm minimum) allows it to work fine with quality tube amplification. Doshi monoblocks, preamp, and phono stage were in service here, as were Jeff's favorite Cardas cables — the Clear Beyond series.



Seen above are the Doshi Evolution phono stage and below, the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference. An Aurender server was seen on the black HRS (Harmonic Resolution Systems) rack on the left. I suppose Berkeley and Aurender are among the "Notable Audio" listed in the program for this room.



The J. Sikora turntable from Poland looked like his top model fitted with the expensive yellow Sikora tonearm (but not as expensive as the Kuzma Safir arm that looks somewhat similar.)



Doshi has quickly risen to the top echelon of tube gear and the Evolution series has a unique style among that group, though not as extraordinary as some. The amp puts out 160 Watts into 5 Ohms with Russian KT150 tubes.



Above, I spotted some unique footers that seem to contain layers of rubber grid, aluminum, and compressible core material. You also get a closer look at the magnificent veneer that is unlike any I've seen before. I hope it is not from an endangered species.




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